Saturday, February 19, 2011

And the Oscar goes to ....

For Hollywood, 2009 was all about the nine-foot blue humanoids in Avatar and the misplaced bravado of a US soldier in Hurt Locker. Barring Inception, where Leonardo DiCaprio tries the ultimate heist by hijacking human dreams to extract information, 2010 is more human: a man is caught between a rock and hard place (127 Hours); a ballet dancer bites off more than she can chew (Black Swan); a junkie who wastes his boxing talent on drugs achieves glory through his brother's antics in the ring (The Fighter); two homosexual mothers go through emotional upheaval with the re-entry of the sperm donor into their unconventional family (The Kids Are All Right); King George VI overcomes his bad stutter (and how) with the help of a ridiculously indefatigable speech therapist (The King's Speech); Mark Zuckerberg is the equivalent of a moustache-twirling villain in an unflattering take on his Facebook journey (The Social Network); a bunch of toys face an uncertain future as their owner is about to go to college (Toy Story 3); a 14-year-old exacts revenge on her father’s killer with the help of a bounty hunter in a Western drama (True Grit);and a 17-year-old has shoes too big for her to fill after her father goes incognito and mother becomes increasingly withdrawn, leaving her with two siblings to take care of and a mountain of debts to clear (Winter’s Bone).

Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours is a major improvement on his Slumdog Millionaire and James Franco’s gut-wrenching portrayal takes the film to a different level but the uneven last 45 minutes might not find many takers in the Academy. Black Swan is a fabulous showcase for Natalie Portman's histrionics but, barring that, the movie gets unnecessarily dark, with ballet peeling off Portman's skin and a faux lesbian relationship that doesn't pack the required punch. And just when you thought the boxing movie genre couldn’t go beyond its grand-daddies, Raging Bull and Rocky, David O Russell comes up with The Fighter, an otherwise oh-so-predictable boxing movie saved by its multiple layers, including a crumbling sibling relationship, a blow-hot-blow-cold love affair and a boxing match that has a lot at stake (don’t they all?). If anything, the Academy might overlook this gritty drama for its intimate American setting.

The Guardian was scathing in its appraisal of Inception, terming it “an intelligent movie for stupid people.” However, barring any David Lynch flick, only Nolan managed the near-impossible: have people talking about it long after the movie was over. However, Inception will find it hard to get an Academy nod, considering it’s not suffused with emotions, compromised for the delectable action sequences. The Kids Are All Right will likely remain a nomination and, more important, a little gem of 2010. Christopher Hitchens sneered at it as “a gross falsification of history” and the pedant in Martin Filler was aghast that it ignored the fact that its subject was considered a “nitwit” and a “moron.” But whatever the experts say, Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth give The King's Speech an air of jocularity even in the grimmest parts.

The Social Network is a rich, understated character drama about one of the internet era’s most bitter court cases. Though the main characters come from the rarefied worlds of Harvard and Palo Alto, director David Finch renders them human. Toy Story 3 was last year’s top grosser at the box office but the Academy might give it a thumbs down for its denouement, which would have been better off as a delicious tangle than a neat bow. Coen Brothers’ take of a successful Western film, True Grit is not a No Country For Old Men but it affirms that no material is elusive in their able hands. The remaining nomination, Winter’s Bone, will win the viewer's heart, if not an Oscar. Think of the hillbilly flick as 2010’s Precious, sans the incest and racial overtones.

My bet: It has to be The King's Speech but the preferential balloting introduced in 2009 — in theory, “the movie with the largest number of votes in first place can lose to a film with a strong second-place showing” — can be its biggest undoing


Black Swan may not be Darren Aronofsky’s ticket to Oscar glory but it cements his position in the pantheon of Hollywood mavericks like Todd Solondz, David Cronenberg and Lars Von Trier, while with True Grit, Ethan and Joel Coen come up with a cinematic picaresque adventure that can put Don Quixote to shame. David Fincher, the man behind Fight Club and Zodiac, would be the last person expected to piss on Mark Zuckerberg’s parade but piss he did with The Social Network. Aaron Sorkin’s rat-a-tat dialogue is aptly complemented by Fincher’s direction — restrained, except for an exhilarating rowing sequence at the Henley Regatta. Tom Hooper displays a hitherto unknown panache to turn a seemingly melodramatic and mannered tale of a would-be king’s speech problem into the story of a man next door in The King’s Speech. Regardless of the verdict on February 27, David O Russell should be a happy man with The Fighter, making an uncomfortable movie that affirmed Christian Bale can act out of his limited gamut and Mark Wahlberg is capable of nuanced emotions.

My bet: Put your money on Tom Hooper.


As the father of two battling a debilitating disease and too much blood on his hands, Javier Bardem sinks his teeth into his role in Alejandro Inarritu Gonzalez’s bleak drama Biutiful. He won the best actor award at Cannes and Oscar glory doesn’t seem too elusive. Jeff Bridges is hitting a purple patch of late. Who knew Bridges had it in him to deliver such a magnificent patch-eyed rugged performance in True Grit, especially after his soul sapping Crazy Heart? As Rooster Cogburn, in the role earlier played by John Wayne, he becomes a man, not a myth, so much so that even his mutton chops assume a character of their own. Jesse Eisenberg is a class apart as the conflicted genius with a mean streak in The Social Network. Like Bridges, Colin Firth’s career too is scaling new heights, of late. As the tortured and tormented gay English professor in A Single Man, Firth was a revelation but that was just an appetiser compared with the range of emotions he displayed in The King’s Speech. For the most part, James Franco is in a monologue in 127 Hours but not once do you see him performing— he lets you get so close, you stop noticing the camera.

My bet: Firth will be second-time lucky


As the ‘man’ of the house in The Kids Are All Right, Annette Bening is an inspired bit of casting and her innate wholesomeness gives the movie’s plot, which is as light as a whisper, a fillip. Nicole Kidman conveys the pain of losing a child and its excruciating aftermath beautifully in Rabbit Hole. Her performance anchors the movie even in the choppier parts. Jennifer Lawrence displays astonishing sensitivity in her role of a girl dealing with multiple problems in Winter’s Bone. Natalie Portman has already won a raft of awards for her breakout performance as a devil personified as a ballet dancer in Black Swan. In Blue Valentine, Michelle Williams barely puts a foot wrong, though the story itself is replete with awkwardness of every kind, the ones that are a given in a marriage where love has fizzled out.

My bet:
Portman may be just a hop, skip and jump away from Oscar glory


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